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Thread: I actually like modular systems...

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    I actually like modular systems...

    But from the response here, I'm thinking I'm the only one.

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    you mean "modular" like those Randall things? The idea is pretty cool.

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    Lifetime Member Enzo's Avatar
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    I have to admit I have no idea to what it refers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Enzo View Post
    I have to admit I have no idea to what it refers.
    i guess he's talkin' about something similar to those Randall Amps, with modular preamps...

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    captain coconut is one such

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    Site Janitor tboy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Enzo View Post
    I have to admit I have no idea to what it refers.
    Something like an analog modular synthesizer, but optimized for use as an effects system rather than tone generation.

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    -tb

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    I'm in the midst of getting this puppy off the ground.


    I suppose this is what might properly count as a modular system in the sense of being like a modular analog synth. The assumption is that the front is to be treated like a patch panel, with cables running here and there.

    Each standard-sized module is switchable on its own, via a DPDT toggle, but the master plan is to have a number of nondedicated solid-state switches that are remotely engaged. You can see these modules with the yellow lettering. The advantage of this sort of switch+module arrangement is that one can assign groups of effects to nested loops. So, for instance, Loop A with 3 effects is nested within Loop B that has one effect after and another before Loop A. One can actuate/cancel all 5 effects as well as actuate/cancel the 3 in the middle.

    Another nice thing about the modular approach is the use of "utility modules". Among mine in either the planning or completed stage are a pair of splitter/mixers for running things in parallel, a variable highpass/lowpass/invertor module for monkeying around with the 2nd parallel signal, and an envelope/gate/trigger module for driving outboard stuff.

    You will note that the splitter/mixer is open-ended such that one or more of the nondedicated switches can be inserted in the send-receive path. The nondedicated switches can be actuated on a momentary basis, too. What does something like this permit? Well, imagine that you run your signal into the splitter, with one output going through some effect (or not) and into one of the mixer inputs, while the other output goes to a switch and delay line. The delay line goes to the variable highpass/lowpass module that can produce a telephone-like tone. This would permit me to use the momentary switch function to provide alternating tones from the delay-line output, as well as cancel the input to the delay line such that I work with the "trails" on a riff-wise basis.

    Once you go modular patchable like this, and include solid-state switches that can function in latching OR nonlatching modes, all manner of complex post-production-like effects can be produced in real time.

    I suppose one should not overlook the packaging aspects either. In this case, I was able to pick up a couple of dozen of these nice 2.5 x 4" black anodized and pre-drilled/countersunk plates for 25 cents each. With no need for a battery and space-consuming phone jacks and stompswitches, the board can be as big as the faceplate without interfering with adjacent modules. Moreover, since there is no backplate, I can stack several board, one behind the other for more complex circuits, as long as they fit the footprint of the faceplate. Power is supplied, naturally, by a central regulated supply distributed by cables inside. The mini phone jacks and toggles are a damn sight cheaper than 1/4" jacks and stompswitches. Where a conventional pedal in a box would cost me at least $15 for all the packaging components combined, this one cost me about $2.50 for the same capability. The mini frac-rac was the price of some particle board, vinyl covering, a bit of aluminum channeling drilled appropriately, and some sheets of copper shim to shield the chassis (though you can use aluminum foil if you want). Maybe $10, if that much. The physical size is about 9" tall, 16" wide. Just try packing 10-11 pedals (don't forget the need to include a switching module, at least) into something that small. The front-side patching means I don't need to waste space on leaving room around the perimeter of stompboxes for jacks, power cords, and patch cables.

    Finally, although I have two frac-rac chassis, I will have about 3 dozen or so modules when I'm done (at some point, I guess I'll need to machine/paint some additional plates myself because my supply dried up). Unlike a pedalboard with its jigsaw-like qualities that demand pedal X go in slot Y or else some spatial catastrophe will result, I can remove and replace any module I want without disrupting anything. If I decide I want a "gig-able" 12-pac (I have 12 modules per chassis), I just put one together with whatever fuzz flavours of the week pique my interest.

    Have I sold you on the idea yet?

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    Lifetime Member Enzo's Avatar
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    So it is just a concept then? I had assumed it referred to some sort of product line - in a sense like the Seymour Duncan convertable amps with the plug in preamp modules. SO there is no existing line I could buy, in other words?

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    Yeah, it IS a concept at this point. There have been commercial modular effects systems produced/launched over the years, but they all seemed to tank. Korg had one. Sequential Circuits had one. Vesta had one. MXR had one. And there were probably others I am not aware of.

    Generally, they came adapted for a proprietary shell, and that was the problem. It is rare that players feel such a strong allegiance to a given product line that every single kind of effect that one might want has a model in that product line that is exactly what the player wants. You might want 4 of the Korg modules but feel that there are two others which can either be bought much cheaper or have more bang for the buck, or some specific sound that nobody else's unit makes. Interfacing those 2nd party pedals with a master unit quickly negates any convenience that the modular system provides. In my case, the DIY route permits me to use whatever I want, irrespective of brand, era, or original form factor.

    FWIW, the Korg PME 40X system (http://filters.muziq.be/model/korg/pme40x) was probably the best of the lot, and was essentially a shell with 4 nondedicated switches, a regulated power supply, and slots to insert up to 4 modules. It had some pretty dang full-featured modules. For instance, check out the Octave V unit (http://filters.muziq.be/model/korg/pme40x/kot401) or the Distortion Wah (http://filters.muziq.be/model/korg/pme40x/kdw301). Unfortunately, the 4 module limit was a bit of a deal breaker for some folks. You can find them relatively cheap on e-bay for that very reason.

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    Atta boy, Mark! Good description, and a nice looking implementation.

    Modular systems are a packaging system. The idea is to make the packaging for each effect mechanically the same, and an easily pluggable part of a bigger array. The price you pay is that all the modules have to have "hardened interfaces" at their edges, where signals go in and out and modular mechanical setups so that you are free to rearrange them with minimal fuss. The "arrange them with minimal fuss" is the payback. If you do a good job of the setup, you can get more effects into a smaller cartable load, and easier rearrangement for experimenting.

    As things exist today, the common concept of a pedalboard is a crude imitation of a modular system. The ins and outs of the pedals are standardized on guitar level signals (mostly) on 1/4" phone connectors, and the pedals are (mostly) fed 9Vdc from an AC adapter with multiple 5.5x2.1mm center negative barrel connectors. No attempt is made to make the cases of the individual effects the same. Instead, the board is made big enough to let you just velcro on another lump.

    It works, but it's clumsy. I like Mark's approach of making the effects fit behind a front plate which holds the knobs and which bolts into a carrier. If you do it well, the carrier will become both the pedalboard and the carrying case.

    Anyway, I'm a modularity bigot.

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  11. #11
    Lifetime Member Enzo's Avatar
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    Did they ever attract anyone other than Korg to build compatible modules then? That would require either an accepted standard, or the Korg unit being so popular as to become a defacto stabdard, at least enough to develpop an aftermarket.

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    Nah. Korg did provide an empty "filler box" for the PME system, but I don't think it was intended for occupation by a 3rd party circuit. That was the holdup. Everybody wanted the modules to be THEIRS and theirs alone. The proprietary thing blew it up in their faces. Same thing with the Electra MPC guitars and their modular onboard effects. (http://www.rivercityamps.com/electra/modules.php). In part, of course, I think you can chalk this up to modular effects systems having preceded the DIY-stompbox era by a good 20-25 years. Pretty much all the modular systems I've referred to are at least that old.

    The closest anyone has come to it in recent memory is the rather bold attempt by Line 6 with the Tonecore series: http://line6.com/tcddk/index.html?ut...campaign=TCDDK which would allow users to design their own modules to stick in the Tonecore docks, and use in conjunction with the existing Tonecore series.

    However, this only makes it possible to plug in your "personality modules" into their shell. If you've ever hoisted one of those Tonecore pedals, you'll realize that a pedalboard with 8 Tonecore docks is not exactly God's gift to lumbar support. It'd make Rick Neilsen's 5-neck Hamer feel like a ukelele. Plus, the pedals/docks, while in stereo, are conceived of a standalone devices, not part of an overarching system with external loop-switching support.

    In some respects PAiA's early modular systems could be co-opted to provide a kind of modular guitar processing system. But the modules were of the synth variety and not the guitar effect variety.

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    Thanks for kickstarting this, guy.

    Modular systems is probably something that needed the DIY revolution to get started. When I look at the various show-us-your-pedalboard threads in forums, as much as I drool over what people have on their pedalboards, I also tend to think that I would not want to schlep those things around, nor would I ever want to change any of my pedals, given the aggravation of having to re-arrange things. In a world of wah-univibe-fuzz, modular offers no big advantage. In a world of Musictoyz and Pedalgeek, though, where a person could have untold numbers of pedals that all sound a little different in some ways, modular begins to make sense.

    F'rinstance. I've made a number of devices using the same board, that of an OTA-based Ross Phaser, courtesy of Francisco Pena and his fabulous Tonepad site. One board is a standard 4-stage phaser. Another is the same thing only adapted to be a Uni-vibe-like circuit. A third is configured to be a Phasefilter (2 allpass and 2 lowpass stages). Now, I could have a single pedal that encompassed all those options, but the switching and wiring to reconfigure would be nuts, prone to signal bleed issues, and necessitate an oversized and costly chassis. With a modular system, I just build 3 modules tailored to each function, knowing that I can use whichever I want, or even two or all three of them. Hell, if I was REALLY clever, I'd include a jack for patching them all to the same LFO. But the "killer app" is that I can replace any one of them without having to change the position or wiring of a single other effect. None of this "Damn! How am I going to route the daisy-chain power cable to the wah now?" garbage. The tendency for more and more manufacturers and boutiquers to use Hammond 1590B and BB-sized boxes has made life a little easier, but some have jacks on the back, some on the side, and then there are those wahs and Line 6 modeller pedals......

    The practical constraints are really one of planning out properly. In my case, the tail (cheap faceplates of a particular size) wagged the rest of the dog, but if you start from scratch, you can plan out a system that allows you to use faceplates that come in "multiples", analogous to 1U, 2U and 3U rack panels. On my 2.5 x 54 panels, I can stick 2 jacks, 4 pots and a couple of toggles on and still have room for my fingers. I suppose I could go with 2 or 3 pots and more toggles if need be. But a 5-pot/2-toggle device is pretty much a nonstarter unless I have a bigger faceplate. Keep in mind that the faceplates would need to be multiples of the same basic size, since you'd need to be able to attach the plate to pre-drilled holes at standard locations. That's where the planning comes into it.

    Actually, now that I think of it, you reminded me - I probably need to make a utility module that does order flipping on the fly.

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    Old Timer defaced's Avatar
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    The closest anyone has come to it in recent memory is the rather bold attempt by Line 6 with the Tonecore series: http://line6.com/tcddk/index.html?ut...campaign=TCDDK which would allow users to design their own modules to stick in the Tonecore docks, and use in conjunction with the existing Tonecore series.
    That is really cool! Thanks for posting it. Now I just wish I had 200 bucks laying around and some spare time.

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    -Mike

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    Noodle of Reality Steve Conner's Avatar
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    I'm normally a fingers-strings-wood-tubes-speaker kind of guy, but I am impressed by Mark's modular system. :-)

    I've been waiting for the Tonecore DDK to come out, and I ordered one, with any luck it'll arrive in the UK some day. I do a fair amount of DSP in my day job, so hopefully I'll get somewhere with it.

    Mark, what do your "EPFM Switch" modules do?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Conner View Post
    Mark, what do your "EPFM Switch" modules do?
    The EPFM switches (i.e., Anderton's Electronic Projects for Musicians) are CD4016-based switches. There may well be better solid-state or even relay-based switches, but the reason I like them is because they need a latching SPST switch to change states. That makes it possible to parallel a latching SPST footswitch with a momentary switch to have the option of "punch-in" as well as "set and forget". Point me to something that does that, and is sonically better without substantially more cost, and I'll happily adopt those. By "punch-in", I mean a state-change that lasts only as long as your foot is on the switch; just like in the old days of tape decks. It reverts back as soon as your foot is lifted. If you've ever wanted to perform "The End" from Abbey Road, live....by yourself, it's just the ticket. I just stick them in a strategic side by side arrangement in a floor unit. I can also stick the momentary switches for two EPFM switches within a critical distance of each other that I can do dual punch-ins (i.e., select two loops/clusters) with one foot. As well, the use of plastic stereo phone jacks (insulated from the chassis ground if one so desires) allows me to control two switches per module from a remote footswitch, given the nature of the circuit. I haven't finished building it for this unit, but I had the same switching setup for a similarly-conceived (though MUCH smaller) rack unit I built in the late 80's, and I liked it a LOT.

    In some respects, it might be better to have built the chassis to have 12 installation slots with a kind of permanent "switch-bay" row along the bottom. The way I figure it, you stick 4 solid-state switches in there, and connect to a foot-control floor unit via a MIDI cable (it wouldn't use MIDI, just the convenience of easily bought 5-conductor MIDI cables). In retrospect, as nifty as having the 2-switch modules is, running patch cords from, say, the upper right module (where effect X might be) to the lower left module (where the switch module might be) can start to get in the way if adjusting things in between. A switch bay that ran along the bottom might have provided a shorter distance between any given effect module and the nearest switch jacks.

    I was also pondering making a module with a version of this switch: http://hammer.ampage.org/files/quadsequentialswitch.pdf Given just how many fuzzes this beast is capable of having on standby, the thought of being able to cycle through them in an efficient fashion is appealing.

    I think far too many of us place too much emphasis on the tonal adjustments of individual pedals, without thinking much about tone as arising from the macro-control of the whole signal path. True performance control consists of not only being able to wiggle a foot treadle and call up patches of presets on a Digitech or Zoom unit, but of being able to easily reconfigure one's system, including effect order, multiple parallel paths, and combination-switching that does not require superfluous movements which interfere with the fluidity of one's playing or thinking. Remember, the goal is to be able to nail the tone you hear in your head at the speed those little tone muses pop into your thoughts.

    Now, I realize that a great deal of this is achievable through digital means, and digital multi-fx are heading in that direction. There are many of us, though, that still crave the idiosyncrasies of analog effects that can be easily modded, and are still a little skeptical of digital distortion units (even though digital everything else seems to sound fine to my ears). Perhaps more importantly, though, a modular system like the one I'm making for myself, is an open architecture system. Whatever a commercial multi-fx providesm, it will always be a relatively closed system, or if it isn't it will at least require devoting considerable time to comprehending the software enough to reprogram it. What I have here in analog form is instantly accessible, and offers unlimited flexibility.

    Oh yeah, I buy dual patch cables (four mini-plugs with 3ft of cable between each stereo end) for a buck or buck fifty at the dollar store, cut 'em up and add another mini phone plug to the free ends, so that my patch cables cost me about 80 cents each.

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    Last edited by Mark Hammer; 11-17-2008 at 03:59 PM.

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    One day I'll get the time to work over my own collection of miscellaneous pedals and pieces and put it into something like this:

    Steel Studs Modular Rack

    The rolled-steel structural members are the cheapest way I've found to get durable enclosures at a good price. Two of them and a piano hinge make for a unit that will fold up into its own carrying case.

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    I always did like that thinkpiece, and the overall idea.

    I guess the only part of it I didn't like was the more or less forced linearity of it. That is, it was optimized for this-goes-into-that-then-into-that-then-into-that-etc, with the respective stompswitches laid out from right to left or left to right. Up to a certain point (let's say an octet of most-often-used effects), it works great and is just what the doctor ordered. I'm a little sicker than that, so the linearity works against me. But it IS an elegant solution for a certain kind of player and set of needs. And every bit as cheap as the one I adopted.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Hammer View Post
    I guess the only part of it I didn't like was the more or less forced linearity of it. That is, it was optimized for this-goes-into-that-then-into-that-then-into-that-etc, with the respective stompswitches laid out from right to left or left to right. Up to a certain point (let's say an octet of most-often-used effects), it works great and is just what the doctor ordered. I'm a little sicker than that, so the linearity works against me. But it IS an elegant solution for a certain kind of player and set of needs. And every bit as cheap as the one I adopted.
    Ahah, invoking the 'sick-puppy indeed' clause.

    You're absolutely correct. The one-channel version is a slam-bam, thank-you-m'am linear pedalboard.

    I was thinking more of the generalization of the channel to the two-channel and four-channel scenario. Take four 17" sections of channel. Spot weld them into two pairs, each parallel and sharing a side to give two open channels per section. ( I took a welding class in the local community college... heheheh, looking for things to melt) and cut/drill holes between to allow wire communications. Now you have a top and bottom, each with two channels. Fill three channels with effects, and put your series/parallel/multichain footswitching in the fourth channel. Do the piano hinge trick again and this folds into a steel-briefcase-like setup.

    But it's a lot of work. And does try to make you think linearly.

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    Hey, that's an impressive machine. I've been meaning to start work on synthesizer modules that were intended for use with an external source such as a guitar, but not in the spirit of what is generally accepted as the guitar and synthesizer duet. I usually avoid trying to make my guitar sound like a flute, for many different reasons.

    The possibilities that exist with voltage controlled routing, sequencing, low frequencies, knob tweaking, etc. would leave me playing for hours.

    How do you deal with signal levels in your modular rack? is it all kept at instrument/line level?

    Guillaume

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    Yes. It is basically an upright pedal board, only with more flexibility. So, everything is at normal pedal levels. The only point of deparure would be the ability to take in line-level signals at the splitter-mixer modules and blend them with instrument-level ones.

    The idea was not so much to devise something new, per se, but to sidestep many of the problems of the old by implementing a few small refinements.

    The "problems of the old" are:

    - cost, weight, and size of pedals and all accompanying hardware (stompswitches, jacks, power connections)
    - awkwardness of fitting non-uniform-sized chassis into a compact workable space
    - difficulty of altering the order, changing the pedalboard composition, use of parallel paths, or any ad hoc patching
    - awkwardness of supplying power and power cables
    - obligatory spatial mapping of the footswitch to where the pedal can "fit"

    What I ended up with was cheap, light, compact, highly flexible, relatively neat, lets me stick the footswitches where they make the most sense to me, and lets me add more effects that strike my fancy.

    Those problems are generic to anyone, I suppose. In my own case, there is the additional nuisance of having to "reserve" space within a standard Hammond-type chassis for jacks, stopswitch, battery, power jack, etc., and the constraints that imposes on choice of board layout (if one is available) or room to stretch out if I go the perfboard route. The faceplates let me use boards that extend right out to the dimensions of the faceplate itself, and even stack them one behnd the other if necessary. Again, that is not necessarily an obstacle that applies to everyone.

    Thanks for the nod, though.

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  22. #22
    Senior Member chipaudette's Avatar
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    Wow, I just checked out the webpages for the ToneCore DDK. That's pretty cool!

    Steve, have you gotten yours yet? Have you tried any C programming on it, or have you just used assembly? I'm highly intrigued. I'm thinking about getting the stereo version and making some sort of controller to plug into the second channel to modulate the guitar signal in the first channel. Could be fun!

    Chip

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    Noodle of Reality Steve Conner's Avatar
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    Yes, I got it, but the bad news is I haven't even fired it up yet, I've been too busy with work.

    I'm happy programming DSPs in assembler, so I don't intend to bother with the C compiler.

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    Junior Member extrejec's Avatar
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    So, I fully realize that this thread is a good 9 months old, but I have to say that Mark, you and R.G. are my heroes right now. Your discussion has been extremely illuminating. This is exactly the kind of thing I've been planning to build for the last couple of weeks. The only difference I can see between your set-up and my idea is that I had thought that rather than making modules of the individual effects it would be a good idea to fix each effect on the board, perhaps multiples of each (depending on the effect), then fix their in/outputs to a studio-style patch bay. This way you have unlimited control over your signal flow without having to swap around modules or worry about the wear and tear that that would cause (if I correctly understand how your unit is going to work).

    It's not strictly speaking a truly 'modular' set up, but it seems like it would lend a lot to one's ability to play with the effect chain. It also adds the potential for affecting as many sources and having as many outputs as you have modules. Essentially the idea is to have a studio effect rack that you can carry around in a briefcase.

    I know you guys might not ever come around this board any more (though I dearly hope you do), but if I may ask, can you guys think of any objections to doing it this way? or think any reasons why it might not work out the way I'm expecting it to? It seems to make perfect sense to me, but I'm still extremely new to any kind of design stuff.

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    Hi,

    I think your take on it is quite apropos. Personally, I can't see there being any sort of "textbook" or ideal modular format. The essence of modular is that the format you decide on is tailored to your processing needs, rather than the packaging format most convenient for manufacturers. And your needs are your needs, not necessarily mine, even though they might overlap a bit.

    There have been plenty of attempts at modular systems in past, but what did not allow them to survive as well as modular synths did, was the fact that they had to be physically compatible with what other effects manufacturers were putting out. So how would you combine some fuzzes and filters you liked from manufacturer X, with those of a different format from manufacturer Y, and then run the whole thing through the Memory Man you cherished on the pedalboard in front of you? What stymied modular effects from becoming more widely available was siply the physical incompatibility, a challenge that did not seem to affect synth players who were completely comfortable with table-top frac-rac modules on large rack enclosures.

    The difference now is that the increased ease of DIY allows folks like us to make complete effects systems along our own physical-package requirements, without having to worry about compatibility. I don't have to figure out how I'm gonna run cables to my Electric Mistress or Funny Cat because someone out there has whipped up a PCB layout for one that will let me stick it behind whatever I deem to be my "standard" module panel size.

    And, as noted in an earlier post, being able to make many effects inexpensively means we don't necessarily have to choose between them. On one of my current 12-module boxes, I have a modded Bass Balls, a modded MXR Envelope Filter, and a modded Roland Funny Cat. They take up little room, and can even be used in conjunction with each other (I found out the other night that I could get some nifty S&H-like sounds using the Funny Cat and MXR unit together in a certain way). It also means the modules can be specialized and not require a maze of toggles to reconfigure them to something else. case in point. Lots of folks have realized they can "Uni-vibe" a phaser by changing cap values. But that's a lot of wiring that needlessly complicates matters. So, I made myself two Ross phaser clones, one tailored to phasing, and the other tailored to a Uni-Vibe sound. Didn't really cost that much more than the extra toggles would have cost me, gave me two effects I could stick wherever I wanted, and offered more options than one über-phaser.

    I guess the only advice I would offer is to think long and hard about what your own current and eventual needs are. Size, weight and cost are likely in everyone's equation. Opportunity to expand probably is too, but what you decide on for your module packaging will depend on what is easily and cheaply available (mine was a product of a one-time deal I got on some pre-made panels), and where you decide the limits will be. In my case I figured there were a bunch of things I was never going to attempt to install behind those little black panels (like rack-mount delays), so I had to figure out how I was going to integrate the modules with the non-modules. That's where the splitter-mixer modules came from.

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  26. #26
    Junior Member extrejec's Avatar
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    Thanks for the robust reply.

    That's pretty much what I figured. I thought you might have had some other invisible motive for designing yours your way, some electronicky zen secret that would enable you to make the perfect box.

    Another question for you... I can't decide between 1/4" and 1/8" connectors for the patch-bay and cables. Bantams were my first thought, but they're ritardously expensive and my budget is limited. My real concern is the durability of the 1/8" connectors, both male and female. I plan to take this box on the road with me and I need to know that I won't have connectors and jacks snapping off left and right. My human impulse is towards the quarters as they're bigger, which as we all know equals better. But if i'm going to be installing 10 to 12 effects, plus splitters and a 3 channel mixer I'll need good bit of real-estate, not to mention cables long enough to span the gap. Any thoughts?

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    I thought I replied to this, but I may have hit close instead of send while in a hurry.

    Mini-jacks and plugs are simply much cheaper if you want a lot of them, and the cables turn corners more easily. For my part, I go to the "dollar store" and buy stereo to dual-mono mini-phone patch cords for a dollar or $1.50 each. I cut the cable somewhere appropriate and I end up with two molded mono cables that I solder another plug onto, and a stereo patch cable that I can use in future. In my case, cost is a big driver of everything.

    You are correct to worry about the roadworthiness of mini phone plugs/jacks, however they have been a mainstay of the modular synth crowd for a long long time, without problem. For interfacing with stuff that is not part of the modular setup, certainly one is wise to go with 1/4" jacks. For the remote switching module, I run a 1/4" jack/plug. I also have a 1/4" in and out jack for the splitter/mixer module.

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  28. #28
    Pickup Maker David Schwab's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by R.G. View Post
    But from the response here, I'm thinking I'm the only one.
    I think more people would like them if they had access to one.

    I don't have one, but always wanted to make something modular after seeing Anderton's unit in Device oh so many moons ago.

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    It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure. — Albert Einstein


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    I like the modularity part of modular systems, but to me the two big issues are 1) compatability and 2) size of setup. I think there's a huge amount of variability in the number of pedals most folks use. At the moment I do not even own a single pedal. (Though I'm at a point in my life where I'm starting to think about this n that). Some folks have huge pedal boards. For the guy who uses one to three pedals, does it really make sense? I think it would make sense with a modular system to produce a variety of host box sizes - 1, 2, 4, 8 I dunno.

    For compatibility, how many people own all one brand of pedal? I realize this is a homebrew forum, so this is kind of academic. (But I felt the question was bigger than just homebrewers). For a commercial system to work, you'd need to balance the customers desire to mix n match their favorite pedals with the mfrs desire to have unique branding. The marketing guys just cringe at the thought of their stomp boxes all looking alike, especially like the competition two tiers down in price. Then there are legitimate reasons (marketing is also legitimate, but we're tinkerer/engineer types so we'll ignore that one) why someone once in a while wants an +/- 18v rail instead of 9v, or an extra pin, or whatever.

    One module I'd consider placing in my setup would be power for my EMG's through the cable. Any opinions on running 0.10" headers on the inside vs mass of topside cables? How much replugging on the set does anyone actually do? How about individual bypass vs "chain selector" stomping? (A chorus might need an individual stomp, but I might rather put my "80's crunch rhythm" chain on a single switch.)

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    Last edited by Nate; 09-29-2009 at 12:00 PM.

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    Anyone interested in kicking around ideas? For instance, does it live on the floor in pedalboard space, or does it sit in a box with floor pedals like Mark's? Are you thinking modular as in "compressor goes into distortion goes into eq goes into chorus"? Or are maybe modular as in "distortion doesn't have tone controls - I just stick an EQ module on either side of the clipping module." You could then make some assumptions about the input/output parameters and strip out a lot of the boilerplate circuitry, saving it for the ins and outs. Any format discussion - 1590BB size boards, steel stud sized, or maybe cards on edge like a bus plane system without the bus (gives high front panel density and a lot of flexibility on board size, but pretty much precludes a stomp box layout).

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    Duh! I knew this was something people a lot smarter than myself had bound to have kicked already. (Like 9 years ago) I was talking about something very much like this:

    http://www.geofex.com/Article_Folders/FXbus/fxbus.htm

    I guess I never found that corner of geofex before.

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    If the point hasn't been beaten to death with a stick already, the reason why modular systems died horrible deaths several times over during the 70s and 80s, and why they can thrive now, is because compatibility is a HUGE issue when modular=commercial, but much less of an issue when modular=DIY.

    Another nice thing about modular is that, if it's well-planned, you can start out simple, and VERY linear (i.e., compressor into fuzz into chorus into delay), but if you want you can start to get "all weird" without necessitating a complete shift in technology. A good modular setup can support either approach. That's one of the reasons why I'm glad I have my two-cabinet setup. One cab holds a dozen modules, which will permit any player to "git 'er dun" with all the basic linear-setup tonal flavours that one might aim for in an 80's-style analog multi-FX like a UE-400, but I can stack two cabs such that a 24-module "installation" can do an amazing amount of things.

    One of the things that I didn't implement, which some would find of considerable use, is a "normalized" patching scheme. By that, I mean a default set of series connections, such that if I didn't plug anything into Y, it would be automatically taking its feed from X and feeding its output to Z. That saves you the rat's nest of patch cables when they aren't needed. Take a gander at the front panel of the venerable Korg MS-20. Having played one on Saturday, I can vouch that you didn't need a single patch cord to play it or generate a broad range of sounds, but if you want to get all weird with it, the patch bay is your friend.

    Of course, any arrangement in which modules are hard-wired to a patch bay like that, with default connection, means one forfeits the capacity to yank modules out and replace them with others. On the other hand, there is no reason why a 2-box setup like my own could not combine the best of both worlds by having one set of you-know-you're-gonna-want-them-all-the-time modules in one package/rack, with a normalized patch bay that can accommodate inserting external stuff, and another package/rack with no particular normalized scheme, and easy module replacement capability.

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    Wow, this thread is amazing! I've been thinking on this idea for some months, and while I knew about systems such as that Korg PME, in my arrogance I thought that I had probably invented the idea of the rackmount modular guitar effects system.

    I'd like to try my hand at the boutique audio electronics business after I get out of college, and this is something I really think can work.

    Mark, you've already illustrated the advantages of a normalized signal path, and I think there is no way such a system could ever get a foothold without that. What I've thought is that it would be smart to design a case that can house some standard modular format (frac-rack or whatever) but includes some special features, like switching, a generic normalized signal path interface (designed to series connect the audio patch from leftmost module sequentially through every module to the right), and guitar->line level and impedance matching (and vice-versa). That way it would be fairly simple to adapt standard modular components (LFOs, VCAs, etc.) to the system, and likewise "guitar" effects could be easily used by the modular synthesist, expanding the potential market.

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    I LOVE THIS!!!

    I don't have time to read the whole thread right now but I love the idea! Especially the part about how effects can be smaller because they don't need jacks etc. I'll be back!

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